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Editorial: G20 Summit reveals limits of Abe’s diplomacy

The G20 Summit has ended. World leaders were invited to Osaka for this meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Did the Summit deliver prescriptions to address the issues we face? We must question the outcomes of the Summit in a levelheaded manner without being dazzled by the glitz of the summit.


“We strive to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory trade and investment environment,” states the Leaders’ Declaration. For the second year in a row, no reference was made to the term “anti-protectionism” although prior to 2018 the term had been included in the Leaders’ Declaration ever since 2008 when the G20 Summit was established.


At his press conference after the Summit, Prime Minister Abe said, “The G20 agreed on fundamental principles backing a free trade system,” but considerations were clearly made for the United States.


Had Abe given up from the start on persuading U.S. President Donald Trump, who has rattled the world order by consistently insisting on his “America First” policy?


Mr. Abe has gone through a great deal of trouble for the honeymoon with Mr. Trump, and this is meaningful only if it can be leveraged to solve concrete issues.


However, there are no signs that there were in-depth discussions on the confrontation between the United States and Iran, which Prime Minister Abe has stepped in to mediate, or the [recent] assassination of a Saudi Arabian journalist in Turkey. The summit will invariably be assessed as having prioritized the success of the conference and avoided difficult topics.


The bilateral meetings held on the sidelines of the Summit also reveal the limits of Abe’s diplomacy.


The Japan-U.S. summit was held soon after President Trump said in an interview with U.S. media that he is dissatisfied with the unequal nature of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. At their bilateral meeting, however, the Prime Minister did not examine the President’s intentions behind his statement but confirmed the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance as if nothing had happened.


In contrast, President Trump said at his press conference yesterday that he had told Prime Minister Abe that the security treaty “has to be changed” because it is “unfair.” The U.S. leader said that he will not abrogate the treaty so the statement is likely aimed at gaining concessions from the Japanese side in the trade negotiations. It could impact the alliance’s ties of trust, though.


Abe was unable to parlay his close personal relationship [with Mr. Trump] into results but was pushed around. How will the Prime Minister explain that?


Moreover, Abe did not have a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. To allow ties with South Korea, an important neighbor, to deteriorate while drawing close to China by saying at his meeting with President Xi Jinping that their nations are “eternal neighbors” can hardly be considered wise diplomacy with one’s neighbors.


The Abe administration is marked by the way it places priority on domestic opinion. The G20 summit has traditionally been held after the G7 summit. Contrary to standard practice, however, the G20 chair country of Japan held it in advance of the G7 this year. The aim, it would seem, is to play up “Abe’s diplomacy” with the Japanese public prior to the Upper House election.


What is Abe’s diplomacy really for? If priority is placed on public support for the administration rather than on long-term strategy, that diplomacy will lead us to a dangerous place.

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